IBM stays the course on Java

You'll hear less from IBM about "thin clients" this year. The company has ditched the term "thin client" in favour of the term "network computing".

Network computing is a network of servers that hold users' data, applications and services such as directories and authentication. All server-based information is then either displayed or selectively downloaded to a fast-growing array of client devices -- network computers, Windows terminals, handheld devices, as well as traditional PCs.

Still convinced of the soundness of the overall vision and its appeal to enterprise customers, IBM plans to broaden its offering of slimmed-down desktop clients and to ready them for what it expects to be a surge of applications written in Java. In the next few months, IBM will introduce a new high-end network computer to its Network Station line. This computer will run an Intel processor and the JavaOS for Business, a compact operating system written in Java with a built-in Java Virtual Machine and other system software.

"Based on all the work done by our network computing software division, we'll have much enhanced performance for Java applications [using the JavaOS] instead of running the Java Virtual Machine on a traditional operating system," said Howie Hunger, director of channels and marketing for IBM's network computer division. "Running Java code natively on a JavaOS will have a significant performance impact."

According to Hunger, some 40 per cent of the Network Stations already sold are the existing high-end models, which include a Java-enabled Netscape browser. This shows, he said, that many customers want to be able to download and run Java applications or access server-based Java programs via a browser.

Hunger said the JavaOS should also simplify the work of software developers by reducing the need to write new drivers and other software for different platforms. One driver, written in Java, will run on any device where the JavaOS is deployed.

Other planned introductions include new management software and applications for the Network Station. Hunger did not give details. Also planned is an upgrade to the Netscape browser that ships with the Network Station, to version 4.5 or higher. This will let the browser work with Dynamic HTML pages.

IBM will improve its support for the Citrix Systems ICA protocol, which lets the Network Stations access applications running on multi-user NT servers.

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